Jerre Dye has a theory. "As artists, we conjure what we need to sustain us," he says. Sixteen years ago Dye, a multifaceted performer and the author of plays like Cicada and Distance, conjured the sweet little script that put Voices of the South on the map as a cultural force in Memphis and has helped to sustain the independently minded theater company since. The Ugly Duckling was Voices' first big hit and remained its most in-demand creation for years. As part of its 20th anniversary celebration, Voices is bringing it back for one performance only at the Buckman Arts Center at St. Mary's school.
The Ugly Duckling was originally created as a low-budget means to an end. The young company wanted to raise money to travel to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to start research on Places of Enchantment, a play about conservationist icons Olaus and Mardy Murie. Company member Virginia Matthews remembers how Dye dumped a box of costumes, hats, and props on the floor and told the company to find things to play with. "Most of us are still using those same costume pieces we gravitated to that first night," she says.
Though Dye crafted the script, the show was a group effort, and before rehearsals, using scraps of free fabric, company cofounder Jenny Madden stitched together quilts that would become integral to the production. "We had less than two weeks of rehearsal," Dye recalls, describing the play's first opening at St. Mary's as, "one of the finest moments of my life."